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Bush’s back to Katrina relief

Will McAuliffe | Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Just over one year ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast indiscriminately, taking nearly 2,000 lives and causing tens of billions of dollars worth of damages. The initial damage would give way to an intensely mismanaged rescue, relief and recovery by the government. We watched as images flashed across every network of people stranded on houses waving for help, bodies packed into the Superdome and citizens and police officers alike looted stores. Reports of overcrowding, violence and rape poured out from the Convention Center and Superdome while water rushed in. The Gulf Coast flooded while Bush played guitar. Literally.

On this one year anniversary, having a short memory and a long list of photo ops is the name of W’s game. One week ago Bush began a tour of the Gulf Coast, beginning a series of speeches and appearances. The content of his various speeches and interviews could be characterized as optimistic, intensely unapologetic and downright oblivious to the realities of the ravaged region. Bush’s ability to sympathize with the people of the region who lost everything they had is best represented in this statement: “United States Senator Trent Lott had a fantastic house overlooking the bay. I know because I sat in it with he and his wife. And now it’s completely obliterated. There’s nothing.”

Well, yes. There’s nothing except for Trent Lott’s political station and his wealth not to mention the lawsuit he filed against State Farm regarding his insurance payout. Besides these irrelevant details, however, Lott is pretty much in the same boat as everyone else in the region. You’d think that Bush would have learned to leave Trent Lott’s house out of Katrina speeches since he made the same mistake upon his first post-Katrina arrival to the region, no sooner than five days after the hurricane.

An interview with Brian Williams on MSNBC was neatly framed by brightly colored, freshly built homes; freshly built by the charity organization Habitat for Humanity as denoted by the banners on their porches. The only thing missing from the tranquil suburban scene was people. There were no people in the homes, just Bush mulling around outside with Brian Williams talking about all the books he’s read and how well the administration has served those in need. He shared with Williams, in a rare moment of honesty, part of his strategy: “The key for me is to keep expectations low.” Well, Mr. President, I don’t think that the people clustered in FEMA trailers can afford to expect little from you, let alone the remainder of the country that you represent to the global community.

It’s a sad day when the leader of the free world thinks it’s clever to keep expectations low. It’s an even sadder one when he pulls it off.

Bush’s commitment to an unwavering message seems to be the only constant in his strategy besides the aforementioned low expectations. This is likely due to the fact that he doesn’t read the newspapers, as he’s proudly stated on numerous occasions, as they are full of analysis and opinions rather than pure facts; facts that can be obtained through unbiased, objective sources such as personal aides and Secretaries of Defense.

His naivete peaked with such motivational lines as “I stood in Jackson Square and I said we’re gonna help ya, and we delivered,” (from the Brian Williams interview) and “Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses.”

The only thing more atrocious than Bush’s intense confusion of tenses is his grasp of economic theory. The concept that all we need to do is build houses for jobs to appear, or vice versa, is extremely condescending towards those who have been struggling to find either a home or a job in the former cities and towns. You cannot just create houses and have an economy pop back onto its feet, nor can you wave a magic wand and have generic, one-size-fits-all jobs appear in a community. His oversimplification of the situation tells us that his understanding of post-Katrina recovery is no better from the ground now than it was from the air a year ago when he simply surveyed the scene from the comfort of Air Force One.

The work that is being done by various NGOs and volunteers such as those featured in last Friday’s Observer article is a testament to the incredible generosity and humanity that can be found in a crisis. However, there is only so much that can be done by volunteers. The government has the power and resources to bring the region back to life. What is needed is for the government to coordinate the plans and resources of the various NGOs and communities in a comprehensive plan that addresses all the issues. The government also needs to assess what is not being done in the region and what role it can play in filling these gaps.

While moving through tables and people at a breakfast, Bush passed a black waitress who jokingly asked, “Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?” to which he replied, “No ma’am. Not again.”

Georgie, you’re doing a heck of a job.

Will McAuliffe is a senior Political Science major with a serious love for the Colbert Report and Fox News. All letters of support, disdain or funny Backer experiences should be forwarded to his personal assistant at mcauliffe.4@nd.edu. Go Irish.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.